New Toy Safety Standard Announced

So we’re  delighted to announce that we reached a safety standard for this holiday season with a large number of toy companies (both large and small). We’ve been working on this issue since the end of last year’s holiday season.

As you may recall our Platinum Award winners last year were tested with two independent labs.  The final list included products that were determined to be lead free. We thought we could continue this policy but soon discovered  that there can be trace amounts of lead.  As a result, toy companies would not sign our safety verification form.  We then moved to the American Academy of Pediatrics definition of trace amounts at 40 ppm.   Several companies signed off at this level but not the majority. We spoke to many  quality assurance managers — they all said basically the same thing–that there could be contamination in the toy making process that could easily bring a toy above the 40 ppm.  At this point, we felt as if we were back where we started. Do we not review products? How would that work when it excluded many of the major toy companies.

After several weeks–we got a consensus.   We now require companies to verify the following:

products do not exceed 100ppm  for surface coated lead

products do not exceed 200ppm for substrate lead

product meets California’s law on phthalates

This is really a stop gap measure until the federal legislation kicks in (assuming the President signs the bill). We can not independently verify by testing the products we receive- but we have gotten companies to sign our form!

The federal legislation is chockful of good things from our point of view: mandatory third party testing, standards for testing; fines for non-compliance and more resources and oversight for the CPSC. What you may not know is that the lead levels for the bill are phased in–600ppm within 180 days of enactment; 300ppm within one year of enactment and 100ppm in three years.

So we were really pleased that we got so many companies to agree to the lower levels for this holiday season. As much as we’d love to claim victory–the pressure comes from a greater source in the free market system…the retailers responding to the demands of their consumers.

So now we can get back to looking at toys in terms of their play value.

As I write this, the cartons of new products are arriving-there are the new potty doll contenders, new wooden trains, new baby toys… It feels like the North Pole – fun, but not to worry, we’re working very hard!

Lead: How much of an issue?

We are still working with toy companies to get everyone on the same page in terms of lead content as part of our review process–in fact I believe we are making really great progress which we will share as we get closer to the fall.  My question, its been almost a year since the whole issue exploded–is it something you’re still thinking about when you go to the toy store?   Are there other safety concerns that you feel need to be addressed?

Kudos to Toys R Us and Wal-Mart

We were delighted with today’s news that both TRU and Wal-Mart have raised the bar on safety standards for toys.  Not waiting for Congress to act, these two super retailers are moving the industry along in producing safer products.Both retailers are joining California in banning phthalates (a softener added to plastics that has been linked to serious health risks) and reducing the levels of surface coated lead way below the current federal standard of 600 ppm (parts per million) to 90 ppm.  What’s left?  We will continue to call for the same reduction in embedded lead.  Only the state of Illinois regulates the levels of embedded lead (requiring toys sold in the state to have levels below 600 ppm).  The CPSC reports that a child died from lead poisoning after ingesting a charm that had excessive levels of embedded lead.  This is a real risk that also needs to be addressed in all products for children.We need the government to follow the market–set the standards and require mandatory testing. 

Toy Safety: What has changed?

On the upside, there is a great deal of testing going on across the industry.  In part, retailers have increased the pressure on suppliers to verify that their products meet federal regulations.  More testing has meant continued fall out.  Since the beginning of the new year, ten more products have been recalled due to excessive lead content.  While toy industry folks are quick to point out that there are thousands of products on the market, it’s not such a big number–it is important to remember that under current guidelines, companies are not required to recall toys with excessive levels of embedded lead.  The federal guidelines only address surface coated paint that has excessive lead content.

So what has changed?  More testing, yes.  And while there is legislation pending in Congress, nothing has been passed.  The leading toy industry association has indicated that it will release its own recommendations for testing standards but has not done so yet.  Perhaps it will be part of their toy fair media work.

The answer, therefore, is that there is a lot of forward motion, but no touchdown (I oddly miss football this week). The industry remains on its own, the CPSC has not been given additional resources or legislated bite to its enforcement abilities, and the media has lost interest to a large extent.

What’s a parent to do?  Stay on top of the recalls (you can register for email alerts at

LEGO joins companies complying with new safety requirements

images1.jpgWe’re delighted to announce that LEGO has sent in safety verification forms for the products that had been awarded Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Awards for 2008. They include:

Hogwarts Castle, Ultimate Lego Duplo Building Set, A World of LEGO Mosaics, Monster Dino, Tiny Turbos, Tiger Shark Attack, Aquabase Invasion, King’s Castle Siege and Fire Station.

The form asks that companies verify that their products are lead free (surface coated and embedded) and phthalates free.

So far the companies complying with our new Safety Requirements are a very exclusive club of three:

Edushape, Publication International and Lego.

For more information about our new protocol please visit our website,

So what are you buying?

Update: The number of companies that have submitted our safety form indicating that their product has zero lead: zero.

The big issue this holiday season for reporters (and retailers)…is whether the lead safety issue will affect our buying patterns. Soon the numbers will reveal themselves, but I think the question is wrong.

If everyone buys the same number of toys, does that mean it doesn’t matter whether we have toys with dangerous levels of lead? If consumers buy more made in the USA products, does that send a message to the majority of companies that manufacture overseas? Once the holidays are over, will the coverage end?

More News On Lead and Toy Safety

A new list was posted this week at of toys that have been tested for lead. The group also looked at levels of other substances of concern: cadmium, arsenic, mercury and pvc (polyvinyl chloride). The group tested over 1200 toys and found lead in 35% of them. The website has a lot of information on it that you may find interesting – not clear why they require viewers to register to view the lists. While we are not personally in contact with this group that has brought together a coalition of national/regional environmental health organizations, from our point of view, the more information out there the better. For our list of toys that tested lead-free*, visit our website

Thanks for the calls/ No new Oppenheim Toy Portfolio for this year

We are getting lots of calls and emails from folks looking for our 2008 book. As we let people know on our website a few weeks ago, we have decided not to publish our book this year because of the lead safety issues. I have a feeling that a lot of the people calling in may not visit the website–so this may not be the best way to get the word out either. We’re hoping that the list on the website of Lead-Free* Platinum Award winning toys will be helpful this holiday season. In the meantime, please check out our Read It! Play It! series that focuses on fostering a love a reading with a great reading list for each age group and related (fun) activities that extend the book experience. The Read It! Play It! with Babies and Toddlers is now available in Spanish.

Lead in Toys: Companies Complying with Zero Tolerance

A few weeks ago we announced that going forward companies would have to comply with our new safety guidelines when submitting a toy for review. We now require companies to sign off that their product has ZERO lead and ZERO phthalates. This means that the product may not have surfaced coated or embedded lead. Currently the federal government allows up to 600 ppm of surface coated lead and has no regulations as to embedded lead or phthalates. For more details on the differences between the two types of lead, visit We have also indicated to past award winners that if they would like to be listed on a lead free list, they need to supply us with the form.

So far the number of companies that have complied: zero.

We will keep you posted. We will start posting the names of the companies that do comply. A number of companies have been in touch to let us know that they are working on it – but as of today, we have not received a single signed form.

Sign Up for CPSC Safety Recall Alerts

One of the best steps you can take this holiday season is to sign up for recall email alerts which you can do at This is the fastest way to get the information you need to determine if you have a recalled product and how to return the product for a refund. Unfortunately the companies all seem to have different policies for getting your money back or obtaining a replacement product.